How Urbanization Causes Political Unrest and Disease Outbreaks

Urbanization offers many potential benefits for a city. It can lead to economic growth, cultural diversity, job opportunities and new businesses. It also can bring communities of people together.

urbanization leads to povertyThe challenge, and even potential damage, comes when urbanization happens too quickly in cities that aren’t prepared for it. Overpopulation happens when a city draws too many people seeking a better job, or a new way of life.

By 2008, more than half of the world’s population was living in cities. According to the World Economic Forum, that’s an increase of one-third from the 1950s. The rate is growing faster than ever, and it is expected that two-thirds of all people could be living in cities by 2050.

When growth happens at a dangerously fast rate, it creates conditions that lead to poverty, crime and corruption, health and safety hazards among other issues.

Political Unrest, Crime and Corruption: When a large group of people migrate to one relatively small area, conditions are ripe for political violence. As cities get too crowded with growing unemployment, it leads to high rates of crime and civil unrest. Riots and protests have erupted in South Africa, Greece, Spain and other countries with high unemployment rates while government corruption has given rise to political risks and election violence in the Philippines, Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico among other countries. Additionally, countries with the highest crime rates include South Africa, Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, and India.

Disease Outbreaks: According to the New England Journal of Medicine, urbanization can be a health hazard in certain conditions. As people move to a city and can’t afford proper health care, it can lead to diseases such as Zika and Malaria spreading into a city. As medical professionals in the city may not be familiar with those diseases and might not be able to treat them, it can lead to epidemics.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the lack of proper sanitation is an issue in cities. This can lead to illness and infectious diseases, which can spread quickly and be difficult to contain. According to the World Health Organization, health challenges relating to water and environment include cancers and respiratory disease.

Cities Spread Disease Outbreaks

For example, the spread of Zika came from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the disease and lives alongside people. The disease spread through Latin America, affecting 113 million people living in favelas or slums that lack clean water and store water in open containers with no air conditioning. Zika spread quicker and infected more people in heavily populated cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Poor sanitation coupled with health officials’ lack of experience with Zika led to the epidemic.

Although big cities have public health services - hospitals, street cleaners, sanitization departments - when cities grow too fast, the population can outgrow the effectiveness of those services.

Key areas that a city needs to focus on as its population grows include:

Infrastructure: The quality of life in a city depends largely on its infrastructure. Infrastructure also helps with a city’s economy, as it create ways for people to get to work and back home. In regard to health, proper infrastructure makes doctors and hospital inaccessible.

Key components of infrastructure include transportation (roads, buses, trains, airports, etc.) electricity, clean water and effective sewage, and communication.

A fast-growing city may not be able to maintain the necessary infrastructure. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — which has representatives from 35 countries devoted to economic progress — estimates that world governments will have to spend $71 trillion by 2030 in order to provide the necessary infrastructure the world needs for electricity, transportation, water and communications. Furthermore, it says many governments will not be able to afford what they need to provide basic needs for their populations.

Social instability: The World Economic Forum reports that people who live in cities generate more than 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Still, even productive cities have difficulty handling the increase in population that comes with migration. Many of the people contributing to the world’s economy can barely afford to live in the areas where they work, creating an endless cycle of poverty.

Five Countries Experiencing Rapid Urbanization and Civil Unrest and Epidemics 

China: In 1990, 26 percent of China’s total population lived in urban areas. At the end of last year, that number stood at 56 percent. Conditions in many of China’s cities are substandard, with heavy traffic, people living in cramped spaces, a lack of socializing among residents, and even reports of cars parked on sidewalks. One factor in China is sub-cities and districts outside major cities. While these sub-cities have long been a part of China (Shanghai’s sub-city Pudong has been around since the late 1950s), construction has increased since the early 2000s, with sub-cities and districts being built on land that was once home to farms and small villages.

Negative health consequences have resulted from poor nutrition and lifestyle habits, lack of healthcare access, poor vaccination, and accidents and injuries. Air quality and water pollution also have contributed to disease, and traffic accidents are an increasing concern as China’s cities use more motor vehicles.

China is seeing political unrest connected to labor, as employees of coal producer LongMay Mining Group, staged a protest because of unpaid salaries. According to a report in The New York Times, the labor rights group China Labor Bulletin, recorded more than 2,700 labor-related strikes in 2015.

India: Urban growth in India has been happening at a speed that is rarely seen. From 1971 to 2008, the country’s urban population increased by 230 million. It is expected to increase another 250 million by the year 2026. The too-fast growth has led to such problems as slums, environmental damage, unemployment, traffic and overcrowding.

According to a report by the World Bank Group, India’s growing urbanization has led to issues with infrastructure, government services, housing and the environment. Additionally, the report notes that India’s seven largest metropolitan areas (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad) dominate the nation’s economy, but manufacturing employment has declined in all those cities. While India faces health issues, especially regarding clean water, the city of Surat in India had serious public health issues, but raised hygiene standards that led to it being one of India’s cleanest cities.

India has its share of political unrest, as protests were seen in Northern India earlier this year, as members of the Jat community protested over a lack of jobs and educational opportunities. Twelve people were killed in the demonstration. In New Delhi, protesters shut off a key water supply during the demonstrations.

Brazil: Brazil experienced economy growth for years, thanks in large part to exports, especially to China. Another plus came with money made from Brazil’s offshore oil reserves at a time when oil prices were skyrocketing.

Another factor to the growth is Brazil’s government, which has a reputation for creating an environment where business can grow and creativity could thrive. That led to urbanization and people looking for jobs and better schools for their kids in big cities. Furthermore, drought and severe weather has made life in rural areas difficult, leading people to move to cities. But even in a country where the economy is strong, urbanization is problematic in that cities don’t have the resources to care for all those people. That led to settlements, known as shantytowns, being built around urban areas.

Health is another issue, as Brazil is one of the countries where the Zika virus has spread. In 2014, Zika made its way to South America, with infections confirmed in Brazil in May 2015. There is an estimated 1.5 million cases reported of the Zika virus in Brazil. The disease spread through Latin America, affecting 113 million people living in favelas or slums that lack clean water and store water in open containers with no air conditioning. 

Brazil’s economy has seen negative growth for the past three years. This was supposed to be a year of celebration with Rio hosting the Olympics, but the economy and concerns of Zika are casting a pall as the Games approach.

Brazil also has its share of political unrest as the country has seen a series of protests over the past two years over investigations of Brazil’s Workers’ Party (the party of President Dilma Rouseff) for accepting bribes from energy company Petrobras during the years Rouseff was on Petrobras’ board of directors.

Kenya: The East African nation is seeing more than 250,000 people moving to cities each year. This is leading to congestion in certain cities, with the capital city of Nairobi gaining a reputation for terrible traffic jams. Kenya is one country where growing cities could result in positives, as more cities will be needed as the country’s population grows. Kenya’s second-largest city, Mombasa, is a port on the country’s East Coast with an airport. Proper growth of this city could help Kenya become a player in international trade.

The health risks in Kenya are of particular concern as malaria and tuberculosis have been concerns for decades, and HIV infection has become an issue in the last few years.

Kenya also has concerns in terms of political unrest. In May 2016, three people died over a clash in opposition protests in Nairobi. While in June, two people were shot in a demonstrations were held in the city of Kisumu over the Kenya’s election commission, which an organization known as the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) claims is biased toward President Uhuru Kenyatta.

South Africa: According to the United Nations, more than 70 percent of South Africa’s population will live in urban areas by 2030, and that number is expected to increase to 80 percent by 2050. Key to this growth is younger people, as two-thirds of South Africa’s youth live in cities. Improvements in transportation have made transport between rural and urban areas easier, with people and goods heading to cities with ease.

The increase in population still brings risks. When natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, strike a city with more buildings and more people that leads to more damage. South Africa’s leaders are discussing ways to make cities safer and effective, and more appealing through factors such as improved public spaces.

Unemployment is a concern in South Africa, especially the high rate of 51.3 percent “youth unemployment” (defined as unemployment among people ages 14 to 28) according to the World Economic Forum tends to be higher than overall unemployment figures. Young people have the communications tools and the wherewithal to organize potentially dangerous protests.

Secure Proper Coverage for Your Business and Protect Your Employees

Companies that conduct business overseas, particularly in urban areas, can encounter such risks as civil unrest and disease outbreaks. It’s vital that you consider these risks and safeguard your business and employees with the right insurance.

Make sure your organization has a global health plan for your employees that protects them against tropical diseases and offers emergency medical evacuation. Clements Worldwide offers 24/7 tropical disease specialists on call, including more than 200 recognized global experts in rabies, diarrhea, and vaccinations, plus specialists in more than 575 travel clinics.

Clements’ group international health insurance plans include a dedicated physician advisor for infectious disease —the Director of Infection at UCLH & Head of Tropical Diseases, London. The responsibility of this advisor is to be available to consult and support companies working in countries with infectious diseases and ensure any infected employees get the best possible care immediately. Clements’ health plans include emergency medical evacuation and medical benefits in more than 170 countries. This is protection your company needs for employees, and a policy that will provide some peace of mind in the event that an employee gets infected with a tropical disease.

Planning ahead for potential problems can save your company a great deal of time, money, and stress. For the latest information on safety and security, visit Clements’ country risk assessment guides.

For further insight into political unrest, see Clements’ articles on the Top 5 Potential Hot Spots based on surging unemployment rates and current and future political elections that might lead to violence and civil unrest. Find out the Key Types of Political Violence Businesses face.

Clements offers custom policies and programs for Political Violence and War & Terrorism insurance that cover individuals and organizations against riots, looting, civil unrest, war, acts of terrorism, and other risks. The political violence extension can be added to such polices as Fleet, Business Property and Liability insurance, Transit and Cargo, DBA, and Personal Accident.

Keeping your employees safe is our priority. Call us today at +1.202.872.0060 or 800.872.0067 or e-mail to discuss how we can tailor our policy to meet the size and scope of your organization. 

Key Types of Political Violence Businesses Should Monitor